There are always signs that war is coming, sometimes very obvious ones. But time and time again, we choose to ignore them. And so this war, like many others, came unexpectedly, even though an entire nation had been waiting for it for 30 years.
At the end of September, in the days before the war started, I was consumed by research for an article about the increased number of military flights between Turkey and Azerbaijan. There were ample signs that war was on the horizon.
But it was still a shock when, on September 27, a colleague’s brother called from Stepanakert, the capital of Artsakh (known internationally as Nagorno-Karabakh), to say children were being sent to Armenia.
The residents of the city refused to leave their homes during the last war, and were unlikely to go now, so the fact that the children were leaving was alarming.
There were media reports of one girl, who had been taken far from home and her parents, saying she would pretend to be sick so she could return home. An old man who was evacuated from Hadrut and settled in my hometown said that their house was destroyed, so they were forced to leave. He said he can’t imagine living outside that city, but he also does not want to return to see the remains of his burned home.
Sitting in the Armenian capital Yerevan, I feared that a real war, not a new round of skirmishes, was starting. A planned press conference was canceled as reports of fighting grew. My colleagues started planning trips to Stepanakert. Some were even live streaming from the frontlines by evening.
But as a fact-checker, my battles were fought in Yerevan as I monitored the flood of fake news and disinformation. The fake reports started even before the shooting.
Fact-checkers have to review every photo, claim, and bit of information reported from both sides. The governments use information as part of military propaganda, but I believe that society has a right to know the truth, even if it hurts. While covering war requires empathy from journalists and everyone else, euphoria can have irreversible consequences in any situation.
I have to put my emotions aside; everything in war is a fact to be verified--the weapons used, their types and suppliers, propaganda tricks and sources. Those facts must be conveyed to the people on both sides of the war as well as those who follow the developments.
Sitting at my desk, as Sunday evening faded into night, the images and reports seemed endless and it became clear this time is different. In 2016, it seemed that Armenian society did not have time to fully mobilize behind the war effort—the fighting was over in four days. But it was obvious now that the nation did not wait for a second: emotions—especially rage and hatred—are on full display. Besides, there is a growing sense of brotherhood. The news from the border comes, the harder people start to work, to make and provide everything needed. It feels like the country became a factory working for one purpose.
By Monday, the fighting had already reached closer to home: my brother was called to the police station for mobilization, but then, thankfully sent home. I still hoped the fighting would end soon—that was my hope, the hope of everyone around me. There was faith that we, as a nation, did not really want war. So it would end soon. Surely.
But no. The very next day, my brother was called again and this time he did not return home. By evening, he was already in Artsakh. Now the war ceased being something distant and unreal; I, and my loved ones, became part of it.
The fighting also became physically closer: When it was reported that a UAV was observed in Abovyan (a city near Yerevan), people went to shelters and the war-game ended for children coming from Artsakh. Even for them, it was too much to play the same game in two different places.
War is the most destructive and cruel thing that we can do to each other. It disrupts an entire society, an entire generation. The boys heading to the front—the boys in the photos I saw streaming across my desk as they fought and died—are just teenagers. Eighteen and nineteen year olds. Boys born at the beginning of this century, raised to be the “war generation.” All I can think of is that they are dying before they start living.